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Improving field operations with technology

The single greatest change to the HVAC landscape has been the introduction of operational technology that enables constant business improvements.

Field operations often represent the greatest cost to the business and therefore have a significant bearing on profitability and prices.

Their performance also has a considerable impact on customer satisfaction; deploying engineers to the right customer at the right time with the right knowledge and parts to get the job done is critical.

One could conclude that the success or failure of a business is dependent on its success or failure in the field.

Given the dynamic nature of industry, trying to manually manage field operations is both time consuming and ultimately inefficient.

Optimised workforce management, the challenge of delivering or improving on SLAs at minimum cost, has come of age and is available to companies with 20 to 100,000 field engineers.

A case in point is Direct Energy. Owned by Centrica and with 900 engineers servicing heating and air conditioning units in the extreme climates experienced in Canada, they have increased technician productivity by 20 per cent, thus getting more work done with the same staffing levels and improving customer service through realistic, accurate and narrow appointment slots.

Direct Energy achieved these improvements by combining forecasting, planning, scheduling and analytics into an intelligent and automated business process that brings its workforce to peak efficiency.

But this is not a unique case. The Aberdeen Group reports that companies which adopted such strategies have achieved substantially higher productivity at lower costs compared to companies that have not.

Burgeoning technology has allowed optimised scheduling to become part of a greater whole, processes are being extended further and duplication of effort eradicated.

Now is definitely the time to build a workforce management strategy, replacing multiple systems and uniting the contact centre, engineers in the field and the customer.

To prove the point, in the last year social media and smart-phones have become strategic components of workforce management strategy and a route to faster return on investment.

Looking at another industry based on the same model, APX Alarms now use Facebook, its own website and SMS to communicate with customers allowing them to choose their most convenient appointment time slots.

Once they have done so the workforce management system automatically (and optimally) appoints the appropriate engineer to the job, sending them customer details such as location, equipment and service agreements via their mobile devices.

The engineer can then use their device to find the most efficient route to the customer, access diagrams, obtain sign-off and then remotely update customer details.

All the while, clever workflow can automatically build in further efficiency measures, such as texting the customer before the appointment to confirm their availability or facilitate changes.

For continuous improvement, the strategy also needs measurement and feedback. Build business intelligence into this and demand levels and workforce requirements can be predicted with much greater accuracy.

This strategic approach establishes control and provides visibility of all workforce management needs, while also addressing the strategic core of the business to make sustained competitive advantage a reality.

Simon Morris is VP, global marketing, for ClickSoftware